How a Master’s Degree Opens up Opportunities
Maybe you have an undergraduate degree in health or nutrition and you’re ready to take your career to the next level. Or maybe you are a smart, seasoned professional who wants to change careers in a way that helps other people transform their lives.
Jobs in nutrition are expected to grow faster than average in the next decade,[i] and are found in almost every aspect of life.
You’d like to be a professor? A master’s degree will get you there. Small children in school? Become a registered dietitian who improves school lunches for your kids and kids nationwide. Interested in sports? Pro teams have nutrition experts on staff. A researcher at heart? Nutrition studies are going on constantly, all over the country and internationally.
Deciding to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition education requires commitment, dedication, time and money, but the long-term benefits can be substantial, both in fulfillment and salary.
If you are inspired by the thought of a career in nutrition, this guide will help you explore the job paths available to an MSNE graduate.
Students pursuing an advanced degree in nutrition education today need the most current and relevant courses available.[ii]
Nutritional Epidemiology and Research Methods, for instance, a graduate-level course at American University, teaches students learn how to design, implement and analyze studies involving nutrition-disease associations. Another course, Multicultural Health, focuses on health disparities and how gender and cultural indicators affect behavioral risk.
The Health Communication course covers health coaching, mass health communication, consumer health writing and public speaking. Other courses spotlight the lifecycle of nutrition; vitamins and minerals; methods of nutrition education; and sports nutrition, which includes weight and body composition and eating disorders.
Why a Master’s Degree?
As you are exploring careers based in nutrition, the education levels between positions are not always clear. In general, higher levels of education bring more opportunities and higher salaries. A Nutritionist can be almost anyone with some knowledge in nutrition. Some nutritionists are licensed and have advanced degrees, but not all. A Registered Dietician (RD) or (RDN) has a bachelor’s degree at minimum and at least 900 hours of hands-on work in an internship. He or she may also have a master’s or a doctorate degree. A Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) is an advanced nutrition professional; to achieve this certification, a nutritionist must have a master’s or doctorate degree and 1,000 hours of supervised practical experience.[iii] (A master’s degree does not qualify a person as a CNS, but the CNS credential is a natural next step in the progression.)
Jobs in Nutrition: A growing field
The demand for dieticians and nutritionists is expected to grow 16 percent between 2014-2024, according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics.[iv] The bureau classifies that rate of growth as being “Much faster than the average for all occupations,” and notes, “The role of food in preventing and treating illnesses, such as diabetes, is now well-known. More dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for patients with various medical conditions and to advise people who want to improve their overall health.”
Dieticians and nutritionists were noted in “The Impact of the Aging Population on the Health Workforce in the United States,”[v] a 2006 report funded by National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, the Bureau of Health Professions and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Projected growth of the occupations was at 15 percent overall.
And in 2016, the annual Jobs Rated Almanac ratings ranked “Dietician” 15th out of the top 200 jobs,[vi] scoring well in workplace conditions, low in stress and high on hiring outlook.
Here’s a look at some of the wide-ranging opportunities for career growth in the nutrition and dietitian field. There are clear paths to nutrition-related jobs in non-profit companies, government agencies, corporations/private industry, consulting and coaching.
Careers in non-profit organizations
Advocacy and Policy; Research and Promotion
Job Titles: Foundation Nutrition Expert, Grant manager, Communications
The federal government authorizes Research and Promotion boards to research and promote agricultural and food products. A nutrition expert can become a member of one of dozens of food boards, such as the American Egg Board,[vii] the Dairy Farmers of America Cares Foundation,[viii] the National Honey Board[ix] or the National Peanut Board.[x] He or she may be a lobbyist at the state or federal level, work with the media in a public relations capacity to highlight national or global efforts, or do research to enhance the public’s understanding of how a product fits into proper nutrition.
Some non-profit foundations and boards focus their efforts nationally; others are global in scope. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,[xi] for example, is a non-profit program that has, as one of its four main areas, a goal of helping the world’s poorest people rise above hunger and poverty. The foundation employs hundreds of people; positions include Program Officers, Grants Managers, Communications and Country Representatives.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation[xii] is another non-profit program where nutrition is key. The program, founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, wants to reduce the rate of childhood obesity and to help kids embrace lifelong good eating habits. The program works with schools, healthcare professionals, companies, community organizations and families; its director, Howell Wechsler, is a national expert on childhood obesity. Staff members with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation work on everything from overhauling school lunches to negotiating with leaders in the food and beverage industry.
The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity[xiii] is also committed to reducing the rates of childhood obesity; it focuses on such topics as unhealthy food marketing to children and teenagers, weight discrimination and stigma, and taxes on sugary drinks, among others. Job titles at the Rudd Center include Director of Advocacy Resources, Director of Economic Initiatives, Research Associates and a Research Assistant Professor.
“The Center works on this mission by establishing creative connections between science and public policy, developing targeted research, encouraging frank dialogue among key constituents, and expressing a dedicated commitment to real change,” according to the site.
These are just a few examples of jobs where nutrition has a key role in policy development and advocacy. On MyPhilanthropedia.org, 97 national childhood health experts recommended 18 outstanding nonprofits[xiv] doing work across the country and around the world. Another one is the Nutrition Coalition,[xv] an organization that works to fight nutrition-related diseases, particularly obesity and diabetes, and strengthen national nutrition policy (as in the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans). The coalition’s staff includes nutrition and health experts and a scientific advisory council.
Health Education agencies
Job titles: Nutrition educator, Communications manager, Advocacy coordinator
This area incorporates non-profit organizations that focus on overall physical and nutritional health such as the American Health Association,[xvi] the American School Health Association[xvii] or Let’s Move,[xviii] Michelle Obama’s foundation promoting nutrition and exercise in youth. Advocates and experts in these areas often work in schools and their surrounding communities to teach, encourage, challenge and award awareness of nutrition and health.
For example, the mission statement of the American College Health Foundation,[xix] “is to is to promote, improve and advance the health, well-being and overall success of college students,” by funding sustainable college health initiatives and programs, including education, research, advocacy and professional development.
Job titles: Nutrition Educator, Community Partnerships Coordinator, Marketing and Communications, Grant Writer, Fundraiser
Food banks have become one of the most critical links in the nutrition chain; people most in need depend on them to supply or supplement the food on their table. Feeding America,[xx] a national non-profit organization that operates more than 200 food banks across the country in addition to offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., employs more than 5,000 people nationwide in jobs as diverse as creating community partnerships, educating elected officials and working to solve the unique aspects of hunger among senior citizens.
At the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance,[xxi] which is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, positions include Community Engagement Managers, Fresh Produce Resource Developers and Student Outreach.
In Denver, the Food Bank of the Rockies[xxii] helps feed more than 410,000 people a year, 34 percent of them children. The organization’s Nutrition Network Division runs a “Kids’ Café,” which coordinates after-school and summer snacks and meals, and two “Totes of Hope” programs, which sends food home with children weekly and staples home with seniors monthly.
Jobs at these and other food bank efforts nationwide require nutrition knowledge, communication and leadership skills.
Job Titles: Garden Specialist, Nutrition Educator, Education Director, Elementary School Teacher, Researcher, Grant Writer
This career, and related jobs, is dedicated to bridging the gap between the local food system and healthy eating to create an abundance of food by planting and encouraging gardens.
“School gardens provide an atmosphere that incorporates hands-on activities and strengthens academic, personal, and social skills,” says The Center for Nutrition in Schools[xxiii] at UCDavis. “In addition, school gardens allow children to develop life skills in areas such as nutrition, leadership, and decision making.”
One program, “Nutrition to Grow On,” for grades 4-6, uses nine lessons that link the garden to science, mathematics, language arts, history, environmental studies, nutrition and health.
D.C. Greens[xxiv] is a partnership-based organization, supporting food education, access to food and food policy in the capital of the United States; their mission is to build “a healthy food system that can be a model for the nation.” Jobs include Education Director, Farm-to-School Director, Outreach Specialist, Advocacy Specialist and Food Education Fellow, among others.
The American Community Gardens Association[xxv] is an example of a different kind in this category; its goal is to increase community gardening all across the United States and into Canada by encouraging public and private sponsors to work with community members to create gardens in small areas where they live.
ACGA efforts also include programs to enhance bird habitat, which helps with garden pests and enhances gardens in urban settings. The website’s citizen-as-science YardMap project lets a participant map their garden for birds, science and sustainability, in a partnership with research scientists interested in bird-friendly gardening; it also has programs highlighting culture and wellness. Members of the Board of Directors at ACGA are spread across the country, from New York to San Francisco; they also encourage participation in their committees, from Organizational Wellness to Public Policy, Advocacy and Research to Education and Training.
Many universities, urban areas and schools are now focusing on sustainable gardening as a bridge to the table, the economy and health, making jobs in nutrition education necessary and valuable. America in Bloom,[xxvi] TheGrantHelpers[xxvii] and the Whole Kids Foundation School Garden Grants[xxviii] are organizations that emphasize edible garden grants for different sections of local communities.
Careers in government
Job titles: Nutritionist, Research Nutritionist/Physiologist, International Program Specialists, Safety Specialists, Rangeland Management Specialist.
The United States Department of Agriculture[xxix] (USDA) is perhaps the grandparent of all careers in nutrition as they relate directly to food. Opportunities in the USDA include positions in school and university curriculum, nutrition education, science reference, history and photographic archives, a recent USAJobs[xxx] listing noted 232 positions available at the USDA.
The organization includes almost three dozen[xxxi] other agencies and offices, including the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the Farm Service Agency, the Food and Nurition Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service, the National Agricultural Library and the Risk Management Agency. They responsible for researching, developing and executing aspects of federal government policy on farming, agriculture and food; in that vein, they deal with efforts as diverse as climate solutions, farming, forest management, dietary guidelines, food safety/animal and plant inspection, economic research and marketing and promotions.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Job titles: Public Health Nutritionist–Indian Health Service, Health Technician (Dietectics), International Policy Analyst, Consumer Safety Officer
The Department of Health and Human Services[xxxii] covers a lot of ground: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in this department, as well as Social Services (Head Start), Nutrition and Fitness, Vaccines and Immunizations and the Affordable Health Care Act. It also presents information to the public on such topics as the flu, food safety, bullying, HIV/AIDS and mental health.
As a Public Health Nutritionist for the Indian Health Service[xxxiii], you would act as part of the federal government’s main health-care provider and advocate for American Indians and Alaska Natives. As a Health Technician in Dietetics for the National Institutes of Health you would work in Clinical Center division of the NIH Nutrition Department; the position requires experience in nutritional research services, planning menus for complex and clinical diets, and collecting and documenting research data.
As an International Policy Analyst[xxxiv] for the FDA,[xxxv] you would be a part of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, a science-based regulatory department that carries the responsibility of verifying the safety of the nation’s food and cosmetics. Part of the job description says, “The Center’s responsibilities are broad, dynamic, and complex, with a large proportion of its operations devoted to establishing a modern food safety system that both protects food as it moves from the farm to our nation’s tables and incorporates strong hazard prevention controls on imported and domestic food.”
Department of Veterans Affairs
Job Titles: Clinical Dietician, Registered Dietician, Assistant Chief in Nutrition and Food Service, Dietetic Intern
The Department of Veterans Affairs[xxxvi] provides benefits programs, health care and other programs and services for the nation’s nearly 22 million veterans.[xxxvii] Jobs with this department can be regional, such as Dietician positions in various states, or national, such as the Assistant Chief in Nutrition and Food Services, which directly supervisees the Clinical Nutrition and Administrative Food Services System Chiefs in developing high quality food and nutrition therapy.
The VA’s Nutrition and Food Services[xxxviii] department focuses on Nutrition Education, and Nutritional Services designed specifically to ensure high-quality food services in VA health care facilities across the country. Its Dietetic Internship Program[xxxix] offers dietetic internships in teaching hospitals that treat veterans.
Armed Services: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard
Job titles: Health Promotion Manager (Coast Guard), Supervisory Public Health Nutritionist (Air Force), Research Physiologist (Navy), Health Technician-Diets (Army), Fitness Specialist (Navy, Defense Department)
There are more than 1.4 million people serving in the Armed Forces as of January 2015,[xl] divided into the divisions of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. Each of the services has job opportunities adapted to its own population.
As a Health Promotion Manager[xli] in the Coast Guard, you would provide training in Nutrition and Weight Management, Physical Fitness, Tobacco Cessation, Substance Abuse Prevention and Education, Stress Management and Wellness Assessments. Dietitians at Air Force Personnel Centers complete officer training and conduct personal assessments, implement unique nutrition plans and help their patients make positive lifestyle choices.[xlii] Army Medical Centers have Nutrition Care Divisions; Health Technicians-Diet perform nutrition screening and patient counseling and plans dietary regimens. The Navy[xliii] and Marine Corps also employ Nutritionists, Research Physiologists and Fitness Specialists.
Public Health Departments: State, Regional and County
Job titles: Example Job Title: Nutritionist I, Nutritionist II, Public Affairs, Dietitian, Health Program Coordinator, Nutrition Program Coordinator.
States are divided not only into counties but also public health regions; there are jobs that deal with nutrition and health at all levels. To use just one state as an example, the California Department of Public Health[xliv] monitors and informs citizens on everything from food advisories to disease epidemics to legislative action. The department includes Public Affairs officers, Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Center for Family Health and more.
Within the state are 11 Public Health Regions,[xlv] where the focus is on maximizing local impact and mobilizing community action. “Each region includes a Regional Collaborative – individuals, organizations, advocates, community leaders, businesses and others with expertise in nutrition, physical activity, hunger prevention/food security, and under-served communities,” the website says.
In addition, there are 58 counties in California,[xlvi] each with a County Health Services Department. The department for Los Angeles County focuses on community needs, local school needs and health professionals, while devoting efforts to such things as Life Stages & Populations, part of which is Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health.[xlvii] Careers in the LA County Health Services Department[xlviii] include such jobs as Dietitian, Program Director – Consumer Rights and Advocacy, Health Program Coordinator, Nutritionist I, Nutritionist II and Nutrition Program Coordinator – Public Health Programs.
School Systems, from Elementary to University
Job Titles: District-Level School Nutrition Director, School Nutrition Manager, Garden Specialist, Culinary Instructor, Campus Nutrition Program Director, University Program Director, Professor
School nutrition managers work in single schools and report to that school’s nutrition director, who in turn reports to the district-level director. In elementary and high schools, Garden Specialists focus on the bridge between what we grow and what we eat; in culinary magnet schools, that bridge can be extended one more step: Into the kitchen with the chef/instructor.
The national School Nutrition Association[xlix] has more than 56,000 members. It is recognized as an authority in school nutrition and has been active in school nutrition programs since 1946. It acts as a professional development organization, a resource and research clearinghouse, a legislative monitor and a “Professional Standards Hub” for the USDA. Staff members here write newsletters and news releases, and publish School Nutrition[l] magazine and The Journal of Child Nutrition and Management,[li] a peer-reviewed journal of research on significant issues regarding child nutrition.
Careers in corporations and private industry
Job titles: Worksite Health Promoter, Nutrition Health and Wellness Manager, Community Registered Dietitian, Assistant Director of Worksite Health, Nutrition Consultant
Nutrition-oriented jobs in corporate and private industry are as varied as the companies themselves. More than two-thirds of U.S. employers offer wellness programs now, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management[lii] (SHRM) and reported in Forbes[liii] magazine. Those wellness programs often include fitness memberships, nutritious food options, smoking-cessation classes, ergonomic furniture and even on-site medical professionals, all in attempts to keep their employees healthier and keep costs for medical insurance low. “Time has passed, and research shows wellness programs really do make a difference in reducing overall health care costs,” said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs.
Gyms, Health Clubs and Spas
Job titles: Nutritionist, Nutrition Educator, Personal Trainer, Weight Management Consultant, Nutrition Coach, Nutrition Program Coordinator
It has become more and more common for fitness centers, gyms, health clubs and spas to employ resident nutritionists and dietitians, whose responsibilities include consulting with clients and designing nutritious food offerings for members and employees alike.
One large national chain, Lifetime Fitness,[liv] has nutritionists on staff, a 70-page online nutrition manual (chapters include vegetables and fruits, protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, supplements and a 30-day healthy-eating challenge), and a weekly e-newsletter called Flourish. Nutrition coaches and Nutrition Program Coordinators are typical staff positions.
Food companies, i.e. Kellogg’s, Whole Foods
Job titles: Store Nutritionist, Nutrition Scientist, Nutrition Assistant Manager, Global Customer and Brand Manager, Brand Marketing, Director of Competitive Intelligence, Nutrition Educator, Product Compliance/Nutrition Analyst
The Kellogg’s Company[lv] has dozens of different products, ranging from cereals to snack foods to frozen foods. Its website describes the Nutrition Scientist position, for example, as working with other nutrition scientists, brand managers and product development teams “to find innovative nutrition science-based solutions to guide concept and message development.” The company also conducts nutrition research, documents the results and provides nutrition support to the marketing team.
Whole Foods Market produces and sells the 365 line of food products, runs a line of grocery stores based on organic and natural foods, and operates restaurants within those stores. The company’s Wellness Club, a growing program in its stores, was developed by two doctors and a registered dietitian; staff members operate it and the company’s “Health Starts Here” programs through classes, evaluations and discounts on healthful foods. Careers at the company – which is now in Canada and the UK as well as the United States – include “Whole Body” Team Members and Prepared Foods Associate Department Manager; at the corporate level, Nutrition and Marketing professionals are key.
Careers as independent consultants/ entrepreneurs
Job titles: Nutrition Coach, Health Coach
Though health / nutrition coaches work across all areas in many venues, some nutrition educators start their own practices or work as consultants, allowing them to focus on very specific issues they’re passionate about.
The Institute for Integrative Nutrition,[lvi] for example, an online company that trains health coaches in nutrition, wellness, fitness, coaching and business skills, says a coach is “a supportive mentor and wellness authority who works with clients to help them feel their best through food and lifestyle changes.” It offers an online curriculum and partners with several brick-and-mortar universities as well.
Conclusion: The right education, the right career
Nutrition-oriented careers are as varied and individual as the people who seek them. Some dietitians or nutritionists prefer working one-on-one; others prefer large companies. Some want to change lives one at a time; others want to change the world with research and innovation.
They all have this in common, though: A goal of increasing the quality of people’s lives while reducing the nation’s critical obesity issues. A course of study as a graduate student at American University could be your first step.
[i] United States Board of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists: http://www.nutritionspecialists.org/cns/certified-nutrition-specialist%C2%AE-cns%C2%AE-credential
[iv] United States Board of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
[v] National report: http://www.albany.edu/news/pdf_files/impact_of_aging_excerpt.pdf
[ix] National Honey Board: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/research-promotion/honey
[x] National Peanut Board: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/research-promotion/peanut
[xi] Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Development/Nutrition
[xxii] Food Bank of the Rockies: http://www.foodbankrockies.org/about-us/hunger-facts/
[xxvii] The Grant Helpers: http://www.thegranthelpers.com/municipal-grants/community-garden-grants
[xxviii] Whole Kids Foundation School Garden Grants: http://www.thegranthelpers.com/municipal-grants/community-garden-grants
[xxxi] USDA agencies and offices: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navtype=MA&navid=AGENCIES_OFFICES_C
[xxxiii] Public Health Nutritionist, Indian Health Service: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/429619400/
[xxxiv] International Policy Analyst, FDA: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/437963300/
[xxxvii] U.S. News and World Report: http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/11/10/veterans-day-data-boot-camp
[xli] Coast Guard job description: http://www.uscg.mil/baseneworleans/WorkLife/hpm.asp
[xlii] Air Force Nutritionist: https://www.airforce.com/careers/detail/dietitian/
[xliv] California Department of Public Health: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/PROGRAMS/Pages/default.aspx
[xlv] California Public Health Regions: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/cpns/Pages/RegionalNetworks.aspx
[xlvi] California County Map: http://www.mapsofworld.com/usa/states/california/california-county-map.html
[xlviii] LA County Health Services Dept. careers: https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/lacounty/classspecs?keywords=nutrition
[lv] Kellogg’s Company Job Description: https://kelloggs.taleo.net/careersection/2/jobdetail.ftl?lang=en&job=349784&src=JB-10140
[lvi] Institute for Integrative Nutrition: http://www.integrativenutrition.com/health-coaching